MAP-21 and Parks and Recreation
There’s a new, two-year federal surface transportation law in
town (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century– MAP-21), and, as expected,
major policy changes with regard to funding for walking and bicycling are
coming down the pike, so to speak.
We’d be dishonest if we didn’t share our genuine surprise
that the U.S. Congress, in an increasingly rare showing of cooperation and
sheer legislative will, was able to successfully pass a new two-year Surface
Transportation Act (MAP-21) in late June. We also would be remiss if we didn’t
express our strong disappointment in the way the late-hour, backroom
negotiations with the House mangled what was a carefully crafted,
overwhelmingly bipartisan Senate approved bill. However, at the end of the day,
MAP-21 was signed into law by the President in early July and is the federal
transportation program we must live with for the next two years.
MAP-21 contains 600-plus pages, but for our purposes, there
are some key things to know. Specifi cally, how does MAP-21 impact existing
federal support for walking and bicycling? The two biggest changes are:
of Existing Programs; and,
Funding and More Competition.
Under the previous law, popular programs such as
Transportation Enhancements (TE), Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational
Trails Program (RTP) were funded as stand-alone programs, which mean they each
received dedicated annual funding. MAP-21 eliminates these standalone programs
and creates a new funding category called Transportation Alternatives (TA). TE,
Safe Routes to Schools, and RTP projects are now rolled into the TA category
within MAP-21. However, many other projects, including expansive environmental
mitigation and limited road construction projects, are also included under TA
and will now compete for these same funds. The problem is that funding for TE,
Safe Routes to School, and RTP has historically totaled approximately $1.2
billion per year. MAP-21 cuts overall funding for the consolidated
Transportation Alternatives category by a third, so that only approximately $800
million will be annually available. While programs such as TE and Safe Routes
to School remain eligible for funding, they must now compete against each other
as well as a multitude of other programs for much less money.
Transportation Alternatives funds will be distributed to the
states where the state departments of transportation (DOT) will sub-allocate 50
percent directly to larger metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs, pop. 200,000-plus)
to distribute them locally via a competitive grant process. MPOs of less than
200,000 people compete for the rest of these TA funds through a state-managed
competitive grant process.
The state retains discretion over the types of projects it
will fund with the remaining TA funds. A major concern is that while the state
could choose to allocate some or all of these remaining funds for bike and
pedestrian projects, it is authorized to use the funding for any other
transportation purpose—meaning states may “opt out” of using 50 percent of
their remaining TA funding for projects such as trails and bike paths or to
enhance biker and walker safety. This was a hot-button issue during the debate
of the bill, and since its enactment, various Members of Congress have stressed
that states will have discretion over the use of 50 percent of the TA funds.
The language for this particular section of the bill, however, makes it
difficult to determine whether that is, indeed, what was written and ultimately
enacted into law. US DOT program and legal staff are currently analyzing the
language of the bill, and wi ll provide interpretation and guidance on this and
other programs. NRPA is in discussion with DOT staff and will share information
with our members as it becomes available.
MAP-21 and Recreational Trails
money to the states to develop and maintain recreational trails and trail-related
facilities for both non-motorized and motorized recreational uses, including
hiking. To date, RTP has funded more than 13,000 projects, awarding $900
million in matching federal grants to states for walking and biking activities.
It’s important to recognize that RTP has a unique history as
well as dedicated funding source. It was created in the early 1990s and its
funding comes from a portion of gas tax revenues to the Highway Trust Fund from
off-road motorized recreational vehicles such as snowmobiles and ATVs. This is
often referred to as a “user fee,” since direct beneficiaries of the program
help pay for it.
The law has always had two requirements for state
1. They must form RTP trails advisory committees to guide
the program. The committee is composed of both motorized and non-motorized
stakeholders. These advisory groups are now recognized as the leaders, who play
a critical role in the development of our local and regional trails networks.
2. State funding must be awarded through a competitive
process with grant funds obligated for specific trail uses—30 percent for
motorized, 30 percent for non-motorized, and 40 percent for multi-use trail
projects which cover a wide variety of uses.
Due in large part to the outstanding advocacy of trails
activists across the country, MAP-21 preserves dedicated funding for RTP,
basically “cutting them off the top” of state TA allocations. Funding is locked
in at the FY 2009 levels— those found under the expiring law, or approximately
$85 million per year.
In short, the program remains basically unchanged—with one
potential roadblock to the continuation of the RTP at the state level: a
provision allowing state governors to opt out of the program on an annual basis
with these funds returning to their general TA allocation. Governors must
notify the U.S. Secretary of Transportation of their decisions no later than 30
days before the funds are apportioned. Since the funds are typically
apportioned on October 1st, any opt-out decisions must be sent to US DOT by
The key take-away is that funding for walking and biking is
no longer guaranteed as the dedicated funds and standalone programs that
primarily funded these projects have now been consolidated and cut significantly.
While these projects remain eligible for funding, much advocacy needs to be
done within state departments of transportation as well as the governors’ offices.
This article represents NRPA Public Policy’s best
understanding of the new surface transportation law based on conversations and
initial guidance provided by US DOT officials. DOT stresses that the process of
analyzing this complex measure is not complete and to expect changes in final
guidance as they seek to determine how the law will ultimately be implemented.
Dave Tyahla is NRPA’s Senior Government Affairs